Can the Police Search Your Car?

I was asked a question the other day about whether the police can conduct a search of your car when you are pulled over for a routine traffic violation. For instance, say you run a stop sign, can the police search the car looking for illegal drugs.

A police officer can search the car in some instances like:
If you give your consent, the officer can search your car. He doesn’t even tell you the reason. So unless you know your car is clean, it’s probably not a good idea and you can say no. Tell the officer to get a warrant.

If the police pull you over and something that is illegal is in plain sight then the police can take the evidence. For instance, let’s say you are pulled over for running the stop sign. Then the officer comes to get your license and sees a bag of weed on the floor. Under these circumstances, he can take the marijuana and it is admissible in court. In addition, if he arrests you, he can conduct a search incident to the arrest to protect his safety. For instance, if the officer believes you may have hidden a weapon under your seat or in some other accessible area in your car, then the officer may search your car on the basis that his or her safety was in jeopardy.

If the officer has probable cause to search your car, he can do it. For instance, you are driving down the road smoking a joint and the officer sees you. He can pull you over and search the car looking for more drugs or other incriminating evidence.

The best advice is to not carry things in your car that could get you thrown in jail. However, if you insist, put it in the trunk and if the officer asks if he can search the trunk, tell him to get a search warrant. He might just do that, but a search warrant will only be issued if there is probable cause and not merely a fishing expedition.